More Movement, More Learning

Teachers are using new interactive online lessons that introduce movement into their students’ daily routines to help them learn.
Success at School | posted by Devon Frye

“Movement is one of the oldest forms of learning,” says Julian Reed, Ed.D., MPH., who has studied the relationship between physical activity and learning for most of his career. “One of the first things we do when we’re born is move.” So why, he wondered, does it seem like today’s kids are moving less than ever before — particularly while they’re in school?

Extensive research — conducted by Reed and many others — shows that students who are physically active are the most successful academically. Physical activity increases blood flow to the brain, elevating levels of key neurotransmitters that help us focus, make connections, and remember what we’ve learned. But as standards have changed and testing has increased, it’s been harder for teachers to squeeze movement into the school day, Reed says — a development that has been catastrophic for kinesthetic learners, or kids who need to move in order to learn. It’s also been tough on hyperactive kids — more and more of whom are being diagnosed with ADHD — who often get into trouble for jumping out of their seats or fidgeting at their desk.

To help students and teachers manage these challenges, Reed created Walkabouts, interactive online lessons that teachers use to allow young kids to move as they learn key concepts. Each Walkabout is between seven and 10 minutes long, and conforms to a state standard in either math or language arts. Walkabouts are narrated by Gia or Jax, animated children who guide students through urban or natural settings as they teach about topics like rhyming words, telling time, or basic geometry. Each Walkabout generates a random location every time. This means kids won’t see the same background or complete the same activities twice.

As kids walk in place to “follow” Gia or Jax through the Walkabout, they are asked to complete different movements — like touching their toes or jumping up and down — in response to various prompts or questions on the material. The movements are synced to thematic cues in the lesson to help reinforce the subject matter, Reed says. A child might be instructed to stretch his arms up whenever he hears a long vowel sound, for example, thus learning to associate long vowels with his long, stretched-out body. When he makes a short vowel sound, on the other hand, he’ll be told to compress his body down. “We learn by moving through space,” Reed says. Moving with the material, he continues, means that kids are “able to put that content into a context.”

In most classrooms, he says, it's hard for teachers to allow kids the freedom to move as much as they need. “The teacher is still responsible for meeting standards,” he says. “They can’t take time away [from that] for movement by itself.” Walkabouts bridge that gap by fitting short “movement breaks” into the lessons that teachers need to do anyway, he says.

Walkabouts aren’t backed by extensive research — yet — but a small study conducted by researchers at Iowa State University and the University of California at Irvine supports Reed’s claims of their effectiveness. Researchers working with 245 students found that over the course of eight weeks, kids who used Walkabouts in the classroom each day showed less inattention and hyperactivity when compared to a control group who sat through traditional lessons on the same subjects. In fact, students in the control group actually saw their behavioral and focus problems get worse as the study progressed, pointing to the long-term negative effects of lack of movement in the classroom. Reed was not involved in the study, but says it provided evidence that “kids who use Walkabouts increase their focus and decrease their hyperactivity.”

Teachers can also use Walkabouts as an informal way to gauge if students are understanding and material and to identify which students need extra help, says Kristi Gottwalt, the marketing director for ActivEd, the company behind Walkabouts. While kids are engrossed in the activity, she explains, teachers can observe their movements to see if any are falling behind. Each Walkabout comes with downloadable worksheets, she says, and teachers and students have responded mostly positively to the program so far.

After introducing them to Walkabouts, Gottwalt says, “I’ve never met a teacher who didn’t say, ‘Yeah, that makes 100 percent sense.’”

Walkabouts are available for teachers from pre-kindergarten to second grade. For more information, visit www.activedinc.com


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